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Artist Peter Sheppard earns honor for magical,
imaginative compositions of Trinidad’s splendor

The Northern Range is sumptuous and nurturing as she cradles the western corner of the capital city.  The rainy season shaped the Range into a palette of greens that is dusted with gold leaf by the afternoon sun.  This isn’t a description of an imagined composition painted by Peter Sheppard—who’s known for condensing majestic scenes into miniature art—this is the view from his cozy patio perched on Fort George in Trinidad.

The eldest of three, Sheppard was born to be a painter.  His parents, Stephen and Margaret, painted and encouraged their children to paint.  “I remember Christmas and birthday gifts were usually three small canvases and a pack of paints.”  He would cut the 5”x7” gift canvasses in half.  Sheppard often toured Trinidad’s mountainous and coastal terrains.  “My dad used to drive me around on the weekends, not just to Maracas, but long drives across Trinidad,” recounts Sheppard.  The natural splendor of Trinidad he encounters is weaved into enchanting eco scenes that exist only in his mind.  “The quaintness of this land appeals to me.”

Sheppard_4519DRAKESIn Form 4 he studied technical drawing.  “I was doing building drawing rather than mechanical drawing; I was attracted to perspective, and box houses were one thing I used in my perspective practice.”  Those simple houses helped him develop a comprehension of perspective and sense of depth, and they became as commonplace as rivers and bamboo in a Sheppard miniature.  His paintings of box houses dressed in bright hues appealed to tourists.  Seventeen-years-old at the time, Sheppard found a niche.  Soon his 3”x4” paintings were fetching $35 at the Art Buyer’s Fair with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the Caribbean market, the value of fine art is influenced by exhibition sales, gallery curator’s appraisal, demand from collectors, and illustrious affiliations.  Sheppard, 46, is yet to mount a solo exhibit beyond Trinidad’s shores, but last May he attained an honor that is a game changer.   The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists in Wells, Somerset, is a 31-year-old fraternity of artists who paint miniatures; the society was founded by Sue Burton.  Though Sheppard has been painting for 30 years, he says, “I discovered in the last 5 years, that miniatures are my signature.”

On his first attempt to get into Hilliard’s juried show, Sheppard’s work was rejected because the surface of his paintings was a distraction.   “I paint on canvas paper and the pores of the PeterShep4599DRAKEScanvas were a distraction for them,” explains Sheppard, “remember, they scrutinize miniatures under a magnifying glass.”  The second year he submitted a monochromatic quartet from his “Blue” show—all four sold.  “That was something that stood out,” says Sheppard.  “It’s West Indian-themed but the way it was presented was contemporary—the work used cobalt blue paint.”  In 2013 his submission was mounted on masonite board, a surface as smooth as a kitchen countertop.  He lathered them in gold then applied his landscapes.  As Sheppard describes: “I was painting with a smile on my face.  I enjoyed painting the details with the gold luster underneath it, it’s really rich [work].  I sent them to London with such good energy.”  Then he got a phone call with an unofficial announcement, that he is being awarded the Sue Burton Memorial Award for Best in Show.  Jackpot!  Sheppard’s third try, beat 80 competitors and earned him £1000 and coveted recognition.

What’s next?  Possibly a show at the TT High Commission in London, and a collaboration that pairs his passion for food and lush landscapes with his fine art.  “I love the miniatures, because it’s how I interpret nature, everything is delicate and precise and neat.  When I get into a painting I go into a trance, it puts me at peace.  The handling of the painting is very delicate, time consuming and very controlled.  All the things I’m telling you are the complete opposite of my personality type.”

Isaiah Boodhoo and Carlisle Chang are artistsPeterShep4567DRAKES Sheppard admires, but he credits the late Wayne Berkeley, who designed theatrical sets and costumes, with inspiring his technique.   “You look at my paintings and there’s a backdrop, then wings coming in on the left and right,” describes Sheppard.  “It’s always like I make paintings into a 3D stage set.  I paint the background first and I start bringing the work forward.”

His largest work measured 2 meters x 5 meters and took six weeks to complete.  “I just felt like pushing the edges of the canvas out.  [Sometimes] I feel I want to express [nature] bigger.  Everything is still meticulously placed in those big paintings, and I am still using a 000 brush.”   It’s a painstaking process.  Sheppard chuckles as he repeats a comment often heard: “Dat is mad people work.”  But to his collectors, Peter Sheppard is madly in love with creating miniatures that reflect his fascination with “all things to do with the Northern Range.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Powder and Personal Space

Why do people paint their neck with powder, and what is the origin of that ritual, are questions that provoked the curiosity of artist Marlon Griffith for many years.  His curiosity was deepened by derogatory comments like, ‘Yuh look like fish about to fry,’ that are commonly slung at people sporting a powdered neck.  “How does this simple thing get people riled up?” wonders Griffith.  “When I asked people why do they wear powder, most say they grew up doing it to keep cool.  And how do they feel when people make comments, a lot don’t care, some feel really hurt.”

Artist Marlon Griffith in Belmont with his Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation.

In 2009, Griffith, an illustrator from Belmont who lives in Nagoya, Japan, constructed a photographic project around powdered necks, titled The Powder Box Schoolgirl Series.  He cast girls in school uniforms and incorporated iconic logos into his narrative on branding Black bodies. “Coming from a Carnival background I thought it would be interesting to use it as a kind of intervention to comment on things that are happening around us, and to empower the person that is wearing the powder.”

“It was key to pick specific schools where the powder neck girls are.  I attended Tranquility [Government Secondary],” says Griffith, 35, “which is one of those schools.  Around the corner was St. Joseph’s Convent, you wouldn’t find a girl in St. Joseph’s with powder around their neck.  It comes from your background, class, the kind of people you interact

From the Powder Box Schoolgirl Series. Courtesy Marlon Griffith.

with.  Most people, when they see it, get disgusted by it.  For me, doing that part with the schoolgirls brought up a bigger dialogue with the branding.  Branding plays a very big part of urban culture here.  Everybody wants to look like the rapper on TV.  Having the student wear [a logo] image says a lot about where a young [person’s] head is at, and the kind of interactions they have with people.  It says a lot about the education system and how students and educators perceive each other, and the kind of relationships they have.”

Griffith’s Powder Box project first received attention for an exhibit at Real Art Ways.  “Right after that [curators] started picking up this image, it was everywhere, except in Trinidad,” notes Griffith.  “It was being published and written about, I won a Guggenheim, still, nothing here.”

The Powder Box series expanded and mounted with The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla. Photos: Sean Drakes

Last July, Griffith’s images finally surfaced in Trinidad, on a radio station’s Facebook page.  They were posted without credit and out of context with the caption: “Nex level Powderneck … would you wear it?”  The most vile comment Griffith noticed on that thread read: ‘These young women look like prostitutes, only prostitutes wear powder around their neck like that.’  Griffith is intrigued by “how we look at one another in this space; there is a lot of work to be done.”  He hopes his series helps the process of elevating awareness of how we interact.

In the three years since Griffith migrated, he was awarded a two-year John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Connections arts residency.  He has taken a wife, Akiko, has a son, Sora (10-monhts old), learned to write and speak Japanese, mounted installations in Japan, and adjusted to a diet of fish, brown rice, vegetables and tofu.  “Regular exercise, no KFC, no heavy starches.  There is KFC there, but it’s not that

The Granderson Lab in Belmont on opening night of Griffith’s three-day exhibit.

popular.  KFC is big at Christmastime in Japan.”  “I am very happy.  I’m not a starving artist in Japan.”

In the travel narrative The Middle Passage by V.S. Naipaul, the author is on board the Spanish immigrant ship Francisco Bobadilla bound for Trinidad.  Griffith returns to Belmont to expand his Powder Series with the installation project The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla, which references Naipaul’s narrative on relationships in uncomfortable space.  The installation is mounted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2012 at the Granderson Lab in Belmont.

“I am using galvanize to keep a connection to all that galvanize you see when you look out the windows.  In the installation you have different point of views,” explains Griffith, “in the middle of the installation there’s a projection.  I wanted to simulate the idea of walking down a street or a lane.  Belmont has many tight lanes.  There’s a voyeuristic quality moving around these spaces.  Depending on where you live, if you open your window you might be looking into someone’s bedroom.  Many streets run into somebody’s house or a dead end.  Very much like the installation, you walk into a dead end.”

The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla by Marlon Griffith.

A projection of a girl applying powder takes viewers into personal space and provides a link to Griffith’s Powder Box Series.  “I see it as a performance,” he adds.  “With this [Bobadilla project] I decided to focus on the relationships of people within a particular community … navigating trying to be comfortable in an uncomfortable environment.”

Early stage of The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation by Marlon Griffith.

“Since I’ve been back I’ve found the environment to be much more uncomfortable.  There are more police patrols in Belmont.  Yesterday a woman’s throat was slit around the corner.  A lot of personal spaces that I am familiar with no longer exist.  The dynamics of Port-of-Spain have changed, so have the people in response to those changes.”

The Bobadilla project is a collaboration with Alice Yard.  Griffith didn’t appoint a wordy artist statement to the work because, “Not everybody is going to be convinced by what you say.  People have to experience before they can make their own assessment.  I may have my ideas about it, what’s interesting about artwork in general is, art is something that evolves over time.  As the artist you have an idea of what this thing is and what it should do, but then people make it more than what you thought it was or could be.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Minshall Exhibits Early Works

Peter Minshall.

Patience and persistence are paying off for art gallery owner Yasmin Hadeed.  “Year after year, for about five years, I asked Ashraph, let’s do a show with Minshall,” recaps Hadeed.  “This year, I spoke to Ashraph everyday for like a month—I’m  obsessed.”  Hadeed, 41, owner of Y Art Gallery, and Richard Ashraph Ramsaran, 46, artist and owner of The Frame Shop, finally got the timing right.  When Ashraph approached Peter MInshall around the Independence holiday with a proposal for a show, Minshall was receptive.

But when they finally got the greenlight, they would have only three weeks to explore the treasure trove at the Callaloo Company warehouse, survey works in Minshall’s studio, research, edit, sequence the show and produce a catalog.  “It was never about doing a Carnival show,” affirms Hadeed, “it was just about doing a show by him.”  The show they’ve choreographed offers viewers an abridged chronological journey of the artist’s career, but bypasses his impressive imprint on the Olympic Games.

“There are about 45 pieces for this show,” estimates Hadeed.  “I have always been interested in seeing the works of Minshall, and have more or less always kept abreast of what he has done.  It was not necessary for me to preview the work to determine which to choose, since, in my opinion, they are all breathtaking.  However, due to the time frame and scale of what we wanted to achieve we decided on this amount.”  Hadeed anticipates “an overwhelming response to this show.”  “This is a pivotal moment for an art collector, gallery owner or someone who appreciates the arts generally.  We are showing another side of Minshall.  It is important for us to give our appreciation to him for his contribution to the art community as a whole, not just as a mas man.”

“Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” by Peter Minshall.

Minshall Miscellany loosely traces the career of a versatile artist who earned an Emmy Award for his designs.  The exhibit is intimate and has an ebb and flow that befits a designer of drama and queens. The show includes paintings for commissioned works and the mas band Tantana. FIve decadent renditions of elegant and intricate designs for Jaycees Carnival Queen contestants open the show.  They date from the 1970s, and are set beside illustrations of stage designs Minshall executed during his years in London, which preceded his involvement in the Jaycees pageant.

Like many artists, Minshall believes comprehension of design principles is transferable to other creative disciplines.  “Because you didn’t really have any understanding of what art was,“ reflects Minshall, in the second person, on his youth, “everything was everything. Hollywood, Esther Williams, Ziegfeld Follies, The King and I, and art exhibitions were all one and the same.  You had absolutely no sense of discrimination.  So there was this Jaycees Carnival Queen, there were costumes for it and dresses, and you were hardly 16 or 17 and you had a bash.  And you did it in the style of the time.  And it was like designing the colours for jockeys who rode horses at races.  The Jaycees Carnival Queen was like a horse race.  It didn’t matter that most of the horses were fillies and white.  The whole of the country bet on them as if it were a horse race.  The evening gowns had to have a theatrical, dramatic edge.  These weren’t gowns that young ladies would wear to a cocktail party.  These were gowns on a very large stage, so they had to have evening gown fashion-theater about them.”

“I do feel anxious,” admits Hadeed, who has been a gallery owner for 20 years, and has exhibited most of Trinidad’s prominent visual artists.  “It has been an amazing opportunity to showcase Minshall at my gallery.”  “Angel Astronaut stands out to me, it represents a complete embodiment of what he is about.”  The most challenging aspect of the edit process for Ashraph and Hadeed was reducing how many of Minshall’s ‘heads’ are included. That outlined profile of a bald man’s head set in a circle is synonymous with Peter Minshall.  It seems he has produced hundreds of works, each unique, around that head which he found in a photograph on the cover of a 1966 Carnival supplement.

“Mask of the Peacock” by Peter Minshall.

“Everybody thinks it is me.  No it’s not me,” declares Minshall, 71.  “I was so fascinated by this head.  I don’t know who he is, but it connected with me in a visceral way.  He became my ‘everyman’ and I call him The Coloured Man.   My first exhibition of paintings, many years ago, ran by that title, The Coloured Man.  He reappears in this exhibition.  That is why the exhibition is called Minshall Miscellany.  I have returned to him many times during my life and he has not in any way lost his potency.  And it’s amazing that people absolutely think it’s me.  It’s some person who I don’t know who is my ‘everyman’, and ‘everywoman’.  The face so lends itself, chameleon-like, to become whoever or whatever.  He becomes a macaw, he becomes Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, just give him the right accoutrements and he plays his mas perfectly.”

The work that ends the show’s sequence is a self-portrait.  Minshall reserves the backstory to the piece.  “People are going to go into the gallery and see the work, I don’t want to destroy the magic of the work,” explains Minshall.   “The name of it is Face-off: The Artist Sober and The Artist Drunk.  That says it, doesn’t it?  I am there contemplating myself.”

“Please look at the exhibition and when you look at it understand how complex each and every one of us as human beings are, from the beauty queen to the two gentlemen sitting on bar stools contemplating one another—one sober, one drunk.”  “I have to thank Ashraph and Yasmin for bending my arm,” adds Minshall.  “My one contribution to the exhibition that makes me sit pretty and happy is the unpretentious title that I gave it, Minshall Miscellany.”

Exhibit runs Oct. 21 – Nov. 5, 2012 @ Y Art Gallery, 26 Taylor Street, Woodbrook.

  © SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Related articles:

Peter Minshall: A Living Work of Art

Almost Famous

Abroneka is aiming to become R&B royalty

Unknown girl group Abroneka wants to become a household name, but they won’t sing soca.  They have been writing, rehearsing, and perfecting their harmonizing skills for over seven years, now, they’re being shopped to US record labels and are banking on becoming Trinidad’s first R&B export.

The kids-from-the tough-inner-city-with dreams-of-stardom storyline is a  familiar script.  The reason Abroneka’s first chapter is worth your attention is largely due to the credibility of the accomplished team that grooms their sultry vocals, arranges their music, and polishes their tracks.  Champion Sound Studios has mastered Road March and Soca Monarch-winning tracks for Machel Montano, Iwer George, Fay-Ann Lyons, JW & Blaze, and Shurwayne Winchester, while patiently preparing to introduce Abroneka to the North American market.

METRO went in studio with Crissy Abigail Fraser, 23, Rhonda Bobb, 26, and Kandis Dyer, 28, before they set off on their version of an Olympic quest to earn platinum and popularity.  A chance meeting in 2005 on the set of Synergy Friday Night Live brought the trio together.   After each girl displayed her vocal chops, Rhonda secretly noted who she would team up with to form a group.  “Then I took a breath and popped the question: Allyuh want to start a group?!”  Junior Lewis coached and produced them, then brought Abroneka to Martin Raymond at Champion Sound Studios.  Abigail says Albert Bushe, their former vocal trainer, called their sound “soca pop, a mixture of R&B, soca and dance music.”  That was 7 years ago.  Today, the tracks they have shipped to US record labels are strictly in the R&B and dance genres.

What will distinguish Abroneka from EnVogue, Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child is yet to be determined.  At the moment it’s not lyrical content.  Abigail, Rhonda and Kandis summarize that though their ballads are sung with vibrancy, they tend to write about “heartbreak, a first time crush, and bad experiences.”  But for good measure, they paired an uplifting message with an upbeat tempo for a track titled “Dancefloor Ain’t Gonna Be Lonely”.

Abigail and Kandis hail from the Beetham, and Rhonda is from Maraval.  By day they’re retail sales clerks.   But when dusk descends they’re in the studio breathing life into their lyrics.  They’re disciplined and determined to realize a musician’s ultimate dream.  “We all come from a musical family, it’s in our blood,” shares Rhonda.  “The area where I grew up is a bit hostile,” explains Abigail, “there is a lot of heartbreak, a lot of poverty, a lot of negativity that could make you either go negative or positive.  I take [all that] and use it as a positive and write a way that people can get out of it.”

Their singles “Close Your Eyes” and “I Like It with the Lights On” are destined to attract contracts and airtime in America’s key urban markets.  To get Abroneka in the mood to convert lyrics into groovy tracks simply requires a beat.  “When we hear a beat we flow with it,” shares Abigail.  When arranger Gregg Assing played a beat for the girls, they instinctively felt it was “sexy, nice” and directed them to close your eyes.  “We started harmonizing, once you have the feeling the words flow,” adds Rhonda.

When they attain success they have another mission:  “My community made me grow up to be a very headstrong young lady,” admits Abigail.  “I want to give back educationally.”  To become recording champions representing T&T, Abroneka dismisses the “comfort zone” mindset they say Trinis enjoy, and embraces the Jamaican hunger to win.  “They [Jamaicans] push harder, they really fight for what they believe in, what they want they really go for it,” asserts Abigail.  “There is talent here, not just soca and wining.  They can write, produce, sing any kind of music…they have the talent, they just don’t have the hunger the Jamaicans do.”  Yet, Abroneka will fly the Trinbagonian flag when they mount that Grammy Awards podium.

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

The Polished Canvas

Shalini is one of the luckiest underexposed artists I have met.  She has a work studio larger than the average one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, and it’s set on sprawling acreage behind her family’s house in the Central plains on the island of Trinidad.  The spicy, curry aroma that greets us on this Friday afternoon, signals the savory feast her housekeeper has prepared for grateful guests.

Few know that Shalini Seereram, 36, is relentless about being recognized as an original.  To safeguard that objective she fervently budgets how much art by other artists she consumes.  “I don’t mingle much with similar artists.  I would go to [their] show, but I’d rather get to know the people rather than the art.  I don’t really like to hobnob at certain shows.  I would go the day [after opening night].  I don’t want their style to entirely influence me,” she reasons.

The subjects in the paintings she dreams up to illustrate magazine editorials and to realize her imagination, bear three trademarks: intense colors, bold, crisp lines, and yoga-like contortions.  Shalini considers herself “mostly self-taught,” though she studied jewelry design with precious metals and graphic design at John Donaldson Technical Institute in Port of Spain.  She explored “everything from sketching to photography” during her enrollment.  “I got exposed to so much that it was overwhelming.”  She adds, “The commercial art program encouraged me to be adventurous.  I was influenced by Christopher Cozier; he was my tutor for two years at John D.”  Shalini was 20 when she graduated to pursue a career.  “I had this passion for art without [a] specific direction.  I just knew art would be a part of my life.”

Studying jewelry design grew from wanting to create three-dimensional work, but she was unwilling to subject her creativity to the compromise that comes with making bangles and chains based on someone else’s vision.  “[The] perception [that] we are still people who are toting water all over the place, living in old chattel houses, hanging up washed clothes while looking at barren cane fields … I am not into that (she smirks).  We are more than that.”  You won’t find humble wooden homes and sun-kissed clotheslines in a Shalini original.  “I am not going to sell myself that short.”

Two years ago Shalini noticed her work started to reflect her East Indian heritage.  “My subjects are not entirely distinguished as Indian or African, at first.  I started to paint people not regarding ethnicity as much  All of a sudden the fine detailing that I like started to creep out of me; and I [became] more exposed to fabrics and colors of the Indian culture,”  She explains.  “That’s where I am in 2007 with my process.”

Among Shalini’s 19 exhibitions, her 2006 “Rite of Passage” show that was installed in Trinidad then Washington, D.C. is a stand-out because with that collection she “explored a sensual side of Indian culture.”  That show also offered her the most memorable exhibition experience:  “A guy came up to me and told me he sold his Jackie Hinkson to buy my piece [for about U$1,500].”  Shalini admires Gustav Klimt‘s use of gold in his work, and Modigliani; she discovered both artists after receiving compliments that likened her style to those icons.  She also admires how Carlisle Harris uses color and Glasgow’s application technique.  Shalini defends her approach to abstract painting as original, and questions why she should “feel proud” that her work invokes Matisse or Picasso for some.

Ashraph, a fellow artist, Renelle, Shalini’s confidante, and I browse unframed early works as Shalini opens shutters as gentle rains drift from Chandernagore Village.  Some of her 12 adopted dogs stretch near the door.  She says they each strolled onto her yard, one after another.  And claimed a piece of her warm heart.  A work-in-progress awaits on a tabletop easel near dozens of bottles of vivid nail lacquer.  Larger works hang near a shiny, black boxing bag.

Shalini believes she has crossed  the starting line during the 15 years she’s been in the marketplace, yet she is restrained.  “I could be holding myself back not knowing the next step.”  She wants to be a serious player in the fine art world, but is yet to refine and train her strategy on a prize.  “I get up in the morning and I sketch.  If I leave home I carry a sketchbook; I sketch, I sketch, I sketch.”  Few sketches reach completion without delay or the catalyst of an exhibition deadline.   Ashraph confronts her anguish: “You need to step out of your comfort zone.”  “I don’t know how to,” retorts Shalini.

The creative chi that fuels Shalini’s work usually emerges in the dark, lonely night.  She is eccentric, modest, and Hindu.  “I pray for the higher power…the electricity going through our body, and peace and sustenance,” she offers.  “There are others who do deity celebrations.  I don’t, though I would reference the stories and background that deities represent.”  That odd boxing bag is another agent in Shalini’s cleansing and spiritual regimen.

“My dad used to get into fights with me,” she recounts.  “We always butt heads and I would get angry and hit a wall, which is not good for somebody who should insure their hands instead of damage them.”  She found the bag in a mall two years ago and also gets a good cardio workout with it.

Shalini envisions exhibiting across the Caribbean region and beyond, but what her work evolves into and how that work translates are the first evaluations she’ll need.  She notices, “People see my pieces being broken down into stained glass.”  Her urge to explore her creative potential and find durable canvasses for her nail polish paintings, led her to toy with glass panes then old chattel windows.  She found a good fit for what she calls “fusion pieces.”  “I started using $3 nail polish because it was more affordable than paying $46 for a tube of acrylic.”  When working on paper she employs oil and iridescent acrylics, and reserves nail polish for accent areas to satisfy any concern about durability.

Shalini trusts her go-with-the-flow spirit will continue to serve her imagination and career as it did one slow afternoon:  “I was [a graphic artist] at McCann-Erickson Advertising.  One day, I went downstairs to a drugstore and noticed the beautiful colors of nail polish. I bought some polish and started to [paint with] it on matte board.  One polish led to two; before the end of the week I bought 15 colors,” recalls Shalini.  During a later purchase the sales clerk asked: “I am noticing that you come in every day, buy two or three bottles of polish, and you don’t have any on your nails?”  Shalini replied, “Yeah, because I have them on my toes.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com  ]

In the Mas Camp with K2K

Trinidad Carnival attracts thousands of spectators and has offered inspiration to creative teams at Disney and Cirque du Soleil.  This year, a couture-centric masquerade band presentation by a pair of newcomers sparked hopeful dialogue around the return of innovation to the festival.  Before unleashing their inaugural band onto the streets of Port of Spain, bandleader Karen Norman, one-half of the K2K Alliance creative force, shares a few insights.

Karen Norman at K2K mas camp.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR AT THE START OF THE BAND DESIGN PROCESS, WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR NOW, THREE WEEKS BEFORE SHOWTIME?

One of the most compelling parts of the design process is stretching our imagination to create a palatable and exciting concept.  Putting pen to paper was the easiest part of the journey.  Exposing the mas and the story to the public was the hard part and one of our greatest fears.  Such thoughts like: ‘Would the concept of fusing mas with fashion be accepted?  Would the onlooker appreciate the story?’ were some of the concerns we shared.  One of the greatest challenges we face today is getting the mas community to sign up for change.  Even though change is one of the things that is constant, it is not always the easiest thing to accept nor, is it the easiest thing to sign up for.  Thus, even three weeks before showtime we are asking those masqueraders who have put away their “mas-shoes” since the dilution of [Wayne] Berkeley and [Peter] Minshall to pick-up their dancing shoes and to revel with K2K.

Masquerader in The Waters on Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain.WHAT WOULD YOU NOT DO AGAIN?

I was once told that all experiences whether good or bad, leads us to this point in time; to this moment; to the present. Thus, while we would not like to relive any of the challenges that have presented itself over the past 5 years, we would not change anything.

WHAT DOES THIS BAND HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH, OR WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE MOST TO RECEIVE FROM YOUR ENDEAVOR? 

The band hopes to return mas to traditional splendor.  We would like to take our brand to the international runway – open both national and international fashion shows.  We would like to showcase our designs in musicals on Broadway and even in concerts. Maybe one day, when you see Machel [Montano] in concert you will see his team dressed by K2K.  On the international arena, maybe one day we will be the opener for Lady Gaga.  The possibilities are endless.  Minshall showed the world who was Minshall through exposing his talents on several Olympic platforms, we hope to be those Trinidadian twins / women who expose Trinidad mas design to a new arena.

Runway-ready costume prototype at K2K mas camp reception weeks before Carnival.

HOW WAS THE BAND’S NARRATIVE BORN?

In 2012 “water” is used as a metaphor to describe the psychological journey of man.  Life is not just dependent on water, but life is water.  The same way the oceans and seas yield and change, man, too, must adapt as the social and political environment changes.  The same way that water has different temperaments similarly, man is not always even-keeled (e.g., sometimes water is rough and choppy).  Similarly, sometimes we are driven to anger.  Interestingly, while the storyline for “The Waters – Seas of Consciousness”, starts with River Jordan (Birth)–which means when man comes into the world, he is naive.  He is unaware of the social environment and even the political landscape.  On a more personal level, the storyline, our story for 2012 started at the Dead Sea (Ruin).  Ruin is a state-of-mind and can be defined as “the deepest darkest place that man knows”.  And for Kathy and I, ruin was real; it was lonely and dark.  The last two years in New York City has been extremely challenging professionally and emotionally.  In 2010 we each felt like we hit rock bottom.  Creating the band was therapeutic.  It was our redemption.  It helped us to re-assess who we each were.  It also made us realize that while we are shattered, we are not unrepairable.  The band is our re-discovery; our re-invention of self, which is coined as The Saraswati River.

Masqueraders present the band at Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Tuesday.

WHAT TRADITIONS(S) IN CARNIVAL DOES YOUR BAND REFERENCE OR USE AS A GUIDELINE/FOUNDATION?

We look toward the great masters such as Minshall and Berkeley for a constant reminder, that you are never too old to dream, and mas design is built by exploring your imagination and not being afraid to dream.

WILL POLITICS OR CURRENT AFFAIRS EVER FUEL YOUR BAND’S NARRATIVE?  

Over the next three years the storyline does not reflect the political environment.  In terms of storytelling we hope to constantly bring a relatable, yet interesting storyline to the table.

Model displays costume and makeup for section of The Waters Carnival band.

WHICH ELEMENTS OF YOUR BAND ARE MANUFACTURED IN T&T, AND HOW MANY ELEMENTS WERE MANUFACTURED IN CHINA?

Much of the costumes are being produced locally.  The goal is to encourage greater use of our locals and employ the talents on the island.

UPON FIRST SIGHT OF YOUR MAS, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE THE HIGH-FASHION POINT OF VIEW IN YOUR DESIGNS.  WILL THIS APPROACH BE A STAPLE OR WILL THAT SENSIBILITY SHIFT?

Mas, like art, is contemporary.  It should reflect the time.  With that said, the goal of our brand is to keep the designs forward-thinking, fashion-forward and chic.  The fashion arena is not static.  It is constantly evolving and similarly, our brand will morph / evolve as we grow in the arts.

Details of the The Waters mas band by K2K Alliance & Partners.

Band presentation: The Waters – Seas of Consciousness

Bandleaders: Kathy & Karen Norman (K2K Alliance & Partners)

Band size: Medium with 8 sections  |  Membership: U$416 – U$900

Mas camp: 51 Cornelio St., Woodbrook, PoS  |  868-767-9655

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

15 Minutes: Chef Franco Savors Argentina

Fernando Franco’s kitchen preps 400 dishes daily, 

Sean Drakes surveys the chef’s table

 

When you’re the executive chef of a restaurant situated at a premier address for conferences and international business travelers, expectations are high and distinction is everything.

Fernando Franco has been at the helm of Waterfront Restaurant since its January 2008 opening at Hyatt Regency Trinidad.  The native of Buenos Aires, Argentina has worked for Hyatt since 2001.  “I think it was a very good idea,” shares Franco, 43, “to open a hotel is like to have a baby, you see the baby from when it’s born.  To be here from inception was very exciting.”  Franco has created inventive courses at hotels in Europe, Spain and Portugal.  His culinary career was launched in 1989 at Alvear Palace Hotel in Argentina where he was a chef de partie.  He also served as chef at the US Embassy in Argentina.

Trinidad experienced a restaurant boom in the last decade.  The capital city’s allure to the international business sector was heightened after Hyatt catered to President Barack Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009.  Franco reinvents menus every three or four months with innovative pairings and approaches using local ingredients.  He turned down his pots for 15 minutes to celebrate an Argentinian passion for beef.

Executive Chef Fernando Franco at Waterfront. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

Franco’s approach to fusing culinary traditions of two cultures onto one menu:

“When I make menus it’s funny,” begins Franco, “with the chef you know all the different ingredients…the produce, you know the taste you know the flavors, and when we talk about new menus and we invent new dishes you mix together ingredients, but you think in terms of flavor.  The lamb is good with this herb and this carrot, and then you put the mash, because you know the different flavors and combinations, you don’t need to try the dish.  You know when it’s good and it’s not good; take a carrot sauce and you put a sausage with too much herb it’s not that good a combination.”

Franco observes the divergent food habits of three cultures:

Upon arriving in Trinidad his first task was to scour local cookbooks to acquire a primer on indigenous ingredients.  Chadon beni, bhagi. dasheen bush, curry and coconut milk are the ingredients that are now fixtures in his culinary arsenal.  “The big difference between [Trinidad and Argentina] is breakfast,” suggests Franco, “here you have the doubles, it’s spicy and fried, in Argentina it’s just bread or croissant and coffee, nothing else.  It’s not like in the States, they eat eggs, bacon, sausage.”

Sun-dried tomatoes herbed risotto with seared sea bass and fresh organic arugala lettuce. Right: Roasted lamb loin, sweet pumpkin "coo coo" with organic cherry tomato and a merlot reduction. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

Franco factors in geography and creating an experience to feed meat lovers:

“It’s different here than in Italy, France, Miami or Buenos Aires, we have different kind of guest in each place,” he notes.  “In Trinidad we have plenty products.  You put on a list all the products you can find here, then start doing the combinations,” explains Franco in his slightly patchy English.  To construct menus he considers: “If I use white fish and salmon [on a current menu], I find another fish, like sea bass and snapper [for a new menu].  If I used before lamb chops and now lamb legs, next menu I use lamb shank.”  Hyatt Regency Trinidad recently unveiled themed dining nights with Argentinian feast for meat lovers on the first Wednesday of each month.

Shrimp and papaya salad served with organic mixed greens with a lime vinaigrette. Right: Dessert trio of steamed chocolate and banana pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

Franco embraces culinary traditions that preserve the bond to his homeland:

“My father cooked on holidays, weekends, special days,” recalls Franco, “all the family worked together in the kitchen.”  Franco apprenticed with Francis Mallman and El Gato Dumas, who are credited with launching a culinary revolution in the ’80s that converted aspiring engineers into celebrated chefs, and spawned a slew of culinary institutes in Argentina.

“We are famous in Argentina for beef,” claims Franco, “the rib eye is one of the best cuts now, the strip loins is very good.  In Argentina parrillas (bistro-style eateries) serve every cut of beef.  On Argentina Night we have the parrilla on two large outdoor grills, we grill beef, lamb, pork, sausage.”  Another new fine dining attraction at Waterfront is Brazilian Night.  The black bean-based feijoda, explains Franco, is a traditional Brazilian dish served for lunch on Saturdays.  For feijoda, most items on the menu are cooked with black beans.  Once cooked, the beans are extracted from a black liquid which is separated into six to eight pots and used as stock to cook sausage, bacon, dried meat…all the different parts of the pork.

Franco spends 12-hours each day in a kitchen with his staff of 55.  Though he finds time to visit Maracas Beach for a shark ’n bake treat, Franco’s charge to be a creative leader at Waterfront Restaurant keeps his plate full.

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Short Stay: Casa de Campo

Casa de Campo is an extraordinary island outpost,

Sean Drakes samples the beautiful life


If I try to picture what a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village situated on a coastal bluff in the Dominican Republic would feel like, I couldn’t have visualized Altos de Chavon in Casa de Campo.  This ultra-exclusive resort and residential community is a Caribbean destination that is part 16th century, part 21st century and passionately devoted to the arts.

The levels of luxury accommodations here aim not to be outdone.  After all, some of the richest business tycoons own palatial homes here, and both a famous Bill [Gates] and an infamous Bill [Clinton], along with a host of Hollywood highbrows, have deplaned in the private airport here.  Name-dropping isn’t part of the accepted local culture, if you want to feel welcomed.  I learned this from Angel, the resort agent I befriended and who personally arranged my VIP access.  My tour of this 7,000-acre sprawl in La Romana, which is 130 miles southeast of Santo Domingo, starts in the 16th century.

Altos de Chavon at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

Altos de Chavon is a replica of a traditional Mediterranean village, it was built on the highest point overlooking the Chavon River.  Construction of the coral block and terracotta buildings that frame narrow cobblestone walkways, began in 1976 under the stewardship of Italian artist Roberto Copa.  The final stone was laid in 1982.  Walking the site at midday feels like a Hollywood set for a movie involving a romantic tryst in Europe.  You can dine at bistros or three specialty restaurants: El Sombrero, La Piazzetta and Café del Sol.  The site houses a 5,000-seat Grecian-style amphitheatre that has hosted Dizzy Gillespie, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Alicia Keys’ music video shoot and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  There is a Regional Museum of Archeology that is home to a collection of pre-Columbian ritual artifacts.  And an art gallery and craft ateliers that make ceramic and silk-screened souvenirs, and The Altos de Chavon School of Design caps the effort to market Casa de Campo as an arts-friendly destination.  You should note: The School of Design offers degrees in design fields and the fine arts, and is affiliated with Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris.

The Dominican Republic, is the Spanish-speaking territory of the island of Hispaniola, a border with a treacherous history separates it from Haiti.  Puerto Rico is just 60 minutes east by plane.  In order to deliver me to the resort’s doorstep, my driver surrendered his license at a security stall that has the span and scale of an interstate toll booth.  That was the first cue to the grandeur that is a staple at Casa de Campo.

I am in a chic suite, but Casa de Campo resort offers the option to supersize your accommodation with a rental villa tastefully lathered with luxury.  Exclusive and Oceanfront Villas host up to 12 guests at roughly $840–$2,445 per night ($577–$1,345 off-season), that includes maid and butler service, breakfast prepared in your villa, a pool or whirlpool, and concierge service for sporting and dining reservations, and private airport transfers.

Private residence at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

I won’t name-drop, but I have the good fortune and pleasure of photographing two gorgeous private residences during this visit.  Both homes reside on an 18-hole golf course.  There are three here, each designed by Pete DyeTeeth of the Dog has seven holes skirting the ocean and is ranked #17 on Golf Digest’s list of top 100 courses in the world.  Links is a hilly inland course with five holes that tangle with lagoons and lakes.  The Dye Fore course is positioned 300-feet atop the bluffs of the Chavon River, it is a mesmerizing masterpiece.  Its 7,800-yard par 72 layout attracts and challenges pro golfers who shell-out $90 – $215 per person per round.

Marina at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

I grabbed lunch at Chinois at the marina fashioned after Italian portofinos.  I am passing on shopping at designer boutiques, shooting sporting clays and playing tennis (there are 13 courts).  My visit is out of season for the polo matches hosted

Cuban artist Bibi Leon (2nd from right at top) toasts guests at her home. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

November – May at the equestrian facility, which has five fields and 70 trained ponies.  Instead, I’m bound for a day trip sail to Catalina Island.

After sailing, a dinner party at the home of Cuban artist Bibi Leon is a great wrap to the day.  Walking through her elegant front door, my feast begins.  My eyes are restless, in every room, there’s original creative expression by Spanish artists to admire.  Tomorrow, I will ride Bibi’s coattail as we soak in the decadent interior design of her friends’ vacation homes, a collective that can fill two coffee table books.  This is la dolce vita, where the air always feels rare.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  | SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

15 Minutes: Meiling on Mentoring Anya

Tonight, when Heidi, Tim, Nina and Michael unveil another layer of their process to transform an unknown designer into a brand name, many viewers expect a challenge involving stilt walkers will be a cinch for Caribbean contender Anya Ayoung-Chee. 

The skyscraping stilt walker, which originates from West Africa, is a traditional  character known as the Moko Jumbie in Trinidad’s Carnival.  Odds are in favor that Anya’s vision for styling that silhouette will knock it out the ballpark.  Among those with high confidence is  Meiling, the women’s wear designer who groomed Anya for her shot on Project Runway season 9.

Meiling, Tyson Beckford, Anya Ayoung-Chee. Photo: SeanDrakes.com.

From her charming Gingerbread house on Carlos Street, in Trinidad’s capital city, Meiling offered 15-minutes to reflect on mentoring Project Runway contestant Anya Ayoung-Chee:

How and when did your mentorship of Anya begin?

“I’ve known Anya even before she was born, since her mother has been a close friend and loyal customer for many years.  Anya is like a daughter to me and nothing pleased me more when I saw her interest in fashion.  When she returned from studying graphic design at Parsons in New York, she gravitated to a natural passion for fashion and her second home became my atelier.  She has been privy to my creative design process and she has always been open to advice and guidance.”

A fashion design apprentice should possess the mix of what personality traits and skills?

“It has often been said that to succeed in anything, you need one-third talent, one-third skill and one-third discipline.  The most successful interns I’ve had are the ones who are open to embracing new experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Whether they are asked to sew a hundred flowers on a dress, assist in a model photo shoot or attend a fitting, they must do it all in a spirit of enthusiasm and readiness.  The ones who think they are ‘above’ sorting out a box of buttons or feel they are better than the seamstresses, quickly fall by the wayside.”

Did Anya resist your advice to learn to sew or is it something emerging designers can work around?

“Anya is a very talented designer but as she admitted, her one weakness was the lack of technical experience in sewing.  I stress experience, not skill because as a designer she would still be able to recognize quality workmanship and be able to hire staff to create her designs.  However, not knowing how a garment is constructed or  understanding the jargon in the industry in order to get her ideas across to a seamstress would be a handicap.  All the great designers, such as Alexander McQueen, were also great couturiers in their own right.”

Recent collections by Meiling. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

What’s the likely domino effect from Anya’s participation on Project Runway?

“I would hope, firstly, that PR would open many doors for Anya and people would see what an incredibly talented Trinidadian designer she is.  Secondly, it can also open up new avenues for other Trinidadian and Caribbean designers since this show will definitely perk up interest in designers of the region.  I have been mentoring many young women and men for several years and my door has always been open to up-and-coming designers, photographers, models, stylists and writers in the industry.  I welcome the opportunity to work with new applicants since they will be the ones to sustain the industry.”

Describe the common threads that connect your aesthetic and Anya’s?

“I think the common thread with Anya is an understanding that fashion must be relevant to the times.  It is important to be aware of current and future influences and to incorporate them into your designs.  This has been one of the truths I stress to all my interns.  In terms of an aesthetic, I was very proud to behold the top of Anya’s first [Project Runway] outfit which had a surprising T-back.  I believe that the rear of an outfit should always be interesting since people see your back just as much as your front.  It is one of my signature looks, especially in my wedding dresses.  I was thrilled to see when Anya pulled that look out from her years of working in my atelier to shine under such a stressful first challenge.”

MORE ON MEILING:

Meiling. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

The Meiling brand has been in existence for over 30 years, the philosophy is simply “less is more”.  My trademark designs are deceptively simple looking but with great attention to detail.  My customer is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin.  She does not need to bare it all to be sexy, and has the confidence to stand out from the crowd in simple elegance.  She loves fun, occasional whimsy and does not take herself too seriously.  However, she does appreciate and can recognize quality in fabric, cut, fit and workmanship.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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